A History of Thanksgiving

By Leanne Overlander | Uncategorized

Nov 26

1st Thanksgiving

Most of us are familiar with the tradition of a large baked bird claiming the honor at the Thanksgiving table.  And, whether it is Grandpa, Dad, Mom, or Uncle Fred that receives the honor of carving up “Turkey Tom', the tradition of this annual meal is rumored to date back to the Pilgrims an their first Thanksgiving meal.

In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.

Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. 

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days.


Though there is no real evidence that turkey was served at the Pilgrim's first Thanksgiving, it has become and indispensable part of the Thanksgiving tradition through the ages. While most of us probably do not celebrate Thanksgiving in the traditional three day festival that the Pilgrims originally hosted, we still do enjoy spending time with family and friends gathered around great food and plentiful laughter.  And, often, “Turkey Tom” provides the perfect opportunity for introducing guests to the delicious options provided by gluten free holidays  Fortunately, “Tom” is the easiest part of a gluten free Thanksgiving. Let the festivities begin!

Happy Thank


About the Author

Classically trained in Biology and Genetics at the University of Minnesota St. Paul Biological Sciences campus. Gluten free for more than 5 years.